UCanDoIT Celebrates Learner Achievements

Photo 21-03-2017, 18 50 06UCanDoIT celebrated the work of learners and tutors at an award ceremony held at the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists headquarters on 21 March. One of the highlights was the presentation of the Anthony Wigram Achievement Award designed to celebrate those learners who have created a social impact either personally or within their community through the use of IT and the support of UCanDoIT.

Our founder said “This is the second year of the award and numerous nominees were put in front of me, all with their own story to tell. I was impressed by Mike Brace who despite his disability has achieved great things”

Mike Brace CBE with awardMike Brace (pictured) is a former paralympic skier, social worker and leader of disabled charities. He was Chief Executive of Vision 2020 UK (2001-2012) and served as Chairman of the British Paralympic Association (2001-2008). He was blinded at the age of ten by an accident with a firework and subsequently attended Linden Lodge School for the Blind in Wimbledon.

He gained a Diploma in Social Work from the Polytechnic of North London in 1976 and in the same year competed as a cross-country skier in the inaugural Winter Paralympics. He was awarded the OBE in 2005 and CBE in 2009 for services to paralympic sport.

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Lessons Lead to Improved Lifestyle

Alex from Lanarkshire is 70 years old and has been disabled for 12 years. He is quadriplegic and uses a power chair he operates with his chin.Alex sitting in front of his computer

“For years we have tried to get a way to keep me occupied when I can’t get out and about in my chair. I had voice activated software lessons 9 years ago but this was unsuccessful.

I am very pleased with the excellent training and support given to me by my UCanDoIT tutor and am now able to use Grid3. The index finger on my left hand has enabled me to use a push button to access all the systems mentioned and the lessons have been very successful in improving my lifestyle.

I use Kindle a system that allows me to read books and Amazon supply thousands of titles to select from.  I can use emails, Facebook  and I am enjoying visiting countries all over the world and reading the information supplied by Wikipedia, Google and YouTube, also looking at videos.”








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UCanDoIT Course Leads to Further Learning

Sheila is visually and hearing impaired and has had osteoporosis and brittle bone disease for several years. Sheila used to work as a Health & Safety Executive. Following an accident at work in 2009, she was badly injured and has been in a wheelchair since then. She had to give up work in 2011.

sheila-cameronShe said “I began with UCanDoIT with no IT experience at all. I had an accident at work that left me disabled. Up to that point I had a secretary who took notes and did everything for me.

I was very nervous and had a very very short concentration span due to medication. The tutor who came to see me was so friendly, patient and provided my learning at my pace. She spoke to me in a way that allowed me to develop my understanding gradually and was available by email if I got muddled.

Because of the foundations I received from my UCanDoIT course I went on to further develop my IT skills which helped as I completed my BSc Environmental Studies Degree with Hons.

As I have a progressive disability I am now a wheelchair user but can use my iPad, iPhone and iWatch to keep in contact with family and friends. I now also use assistive technology and am not scared to try things as your tutor gave me the confidence to try new things.

I am just so grateful that I was able to access the training via your charity as I was at a very low stage in my life”.

Through UCanDoIT, she learned how to use a desktop computer and laptop with Supernova and iZoom. Sheila uses her iPad for 90% of university work, she relies on Siri and Voiceover apps. She also uses an Apple watch for security (CCTV), alarms, and making payments.

She has also been studying a BA in Innovative Design, BA in Business Studies and a BSC in Social Care and Well-being. In the course of Sheila’s studies she has also learned how to use design software programs such as Compendium and ODS. In October 2016 she embarked on a BSC in International Relations.

Sheila works for the Open University Disabled Students Group and is the Chair. She travels to Milton Keynes and attends training conferences and mentors students.She has been awarded an Honorary Membership of OUSA. Sheila also carries out training for other organisations: Support for Ordinary Living (SOL) in Motherwell and New Mayfair Hotel in Blackpool which provides accessible respite care.Sheila is hoping to have the support of an assistance dog in the near future.



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Never Too Old To Learn

Gertrude was born in 1915 in South Africa. She left school too early and received no education whatsoever. She moved to England in 1961, aged 50, with 3 children and 2 dogs. Life without proper education and profession had been hard for her and her family. Nevertheless, she managed to educate her children to the highest standard – her son is a professor at Stanford University and a Nobel Prize winner.gertrude-cropped

Now living in London she qualified as a teacher and started work. A few years later she registered a private school in her house, educating 15 children. And that is what she is still doing – providing private lessons in English and Maths to pupils up to age 12. “I love people and that makes me a good teacher”, she says about herself.

The only sign of her disability is the walking frame she moves around with. She still drives her car around West London to visit places and friends.

All that she learned on her computer was through trial and error. “My son has been the worst teacher to me” – she says, “He would do things rather than showing me how to do it myself. That’s why I enrolled on the UCanDoIT course. I wanted to have a proper computer course, with a tutor to teach me, to be patient with me, since I have to admit I am not the best student around. And I was lucky to have my tutor so patient and so understanding.”

“At my age I tend to forget, and do things in the wrong way. But I did not know which way was the right way and sometimes I had to ring my tutor Boyko to ask him what to do. He’s always been there for me I am extremely grateful for his patience and knowledge. Now, at the end of my course I can say that I am feeling a lot more confident in my daily work. I do a lot of proof-reading for my son, and that keeps my brains working. All that matters when it comes to keeping healthy and in good shape”.




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Sarah’s Story

I lost my sight suddenly three years ago and it was a huge adjustment to make. I was unsure what I would be capable of doing in future, but whilst I was recovering in hospital I listened to lots of podcasts about assistive technology and it seemed that this could be a way to do many of the things I was used to doing before I lost my sight.Image of UCanDoIT learner Sarah with her computer

I have always been fairly good at understanding how to use computer programmes, but the thought of writing an email and sending it to the right person seemed pretty impossible without sight. I tried using voiceover on my iPhone and iPad but I found it confusing and frustrating. I knew that so much was possible, but I knew I needed help to get started.

My sight loss advisor from my local Visual Impairment Team told me about U Can Do IT and I applied to take part. My trainer Enitan was also blind and it was great to get advice about how she uses technology in her everyday life.

She added tactile bumps to some of certain keys on my keyboard to help me to navigate it quicker. We spent lots of time practising how to get around web pages and I had a list of useful shortcuts to use. I was amazed that I could actually search and open web pages on my own.

One of the things I used to do every week was to complete the online shopping order, but the app I was using didn’t work well with the screen reader. We downloaded an app from a different supermarket which was much better and I was able to browse and create my shopping basket myself which was brilliant and something that I do every week now with ease.

I also looked at using the Twitter app and Enitan helped me set it up. I find I use it every day to access up to date news, information about local events and book/music reviews. She also showed me how to set alarms and reminders as well as how to use the calendar. I can now use my phone to be organised and plan ahead.

I also use my phone to put programmes on the TV using the Netflix app and can search YouTube for things my son wants to watch without needing any help.

It is wonderful to gain this independence and it has also enabled me to keep my links with friends through email, text, WhatsApp etc. which is so important to me. The U Can Do IT course was a brilliant experience for me and helped me overcome my worries about how I might be able to get back to work in future and achieve my goals.

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Battling Isolation

Today we made an elderly woman cry. You might ask why we feel the need to tell everybody about this on a blog, surely not something to boast about…

Actually in this case it is. You see this elderly woman (in her late 70’s) has MS and had a stroke; she lives in a rural village and has been unable to drive for the last year. She relies on friends and carers to take her out once in a while to get her shopping.

“All my friends live a long way away” she told me “I can call them on the ‘phone but sometimes I don’t see anyone for ages. I can’t get out now I don’t drive. I just feel so isolated.”

Image of English VillageIt’s not uncommon for us to hear similar stories from our learners, especially older learners. The villages they lived in for many years were great when they were able to drive or had a spouse or family who could take them places but when none of these are available they find themselves housebound and feeling isolated.

What reduced her to tears from our ‘phone call then? We called to discuss providing her with a tablet and an experienced tutor to teach her how to use it in her own home.

Some of our learners stay on our waiting list for quite a long time if they do not have equipment and we do not have funding to provide any. Due to the generosity of our funders we were able to start this woman on her journey to exploring the internet and to greater independence.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am” she told us. We look forward to knowing how she progresses through reading her lesson reports pleased that we have made a difference to another person’s life.

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Changing Lives

image of learner Cornelia using her iPad

Often when you hear of people’s great accomplishments you find yourself reflecting on what your contribution to a better world has been.

For the past 10 years I have worked as a tutor for UCanDoIT. Over these years I have met many wonderful students with various disabilities; each one coping as best they can, some in very challenging circumstances. Each learner has up to 10 sessions in their own home and, as a tutor, you do feel that a life has been changed for the better with these newly discovered computer skills. At the end of a day’s work you can go home with a high job satisfaction rating.

One such learner was  Cornelia who, at the age of 44, woke one morning unable to get out of bed and barely able to talk. After a great deal of effort she was able to communicate her predicament to a friend who called an ambulance and Cornelia was rushed into her local hospital where, eventually, a diagnosis of Cerebellitis was made.

Cerebellitis is an infection in the brain that can cause permanent damage. In Cornelia’s case the infection caused problems with her speech and her ability to control her movements and may have been triggered by an ear infection. After 6 months of treatment and physiotherapy she eventually made it back to her flat. Life Changed.

A team of carers now provide the support that Cornelia needs. Getting her out of bed in the morning and getting her dressed, helping her wash and brush her teeth, preparing her food and drink and weekly assistance to have a shower.

At the time I was teaching her we were having a heat wave so travelling became a hot sticky adventure and energy levels were zapped with the heat. Cornelia was my Friday afternoon student and, no matter how she may have been feeling, always greeted me with a smile and a cheerful disposition. By the end of one particular lesson the high temperature had got to us both and I faced an uncomfortable journey home. As I left I casually mentioned that I would be able to jump into a nice cooling shower when I got home. It was at this point I realised how drastic had been the change in Cornelia’s life. Now confined to a wheelchair and reliant on others she would have to wait a week to have a shower with the assistance of one of her care team.

Cornelia had been an old style film editor cutting the celluloid up and sticking it back together to make the finished film. She enjoyed going to the cinema and socialising with her friends. Her taste in music was varied and she loved going to concerts. Adam and the Ants had been particularly memorable. Cornelia dabbled at playing the piano and was a proficient artist having done a couple of adult education courses. She had also written several short stories. Nothing had been published but they had provided a great deal of pleasure in the creation.

Technology is great when it works and you know how to use it.  The basic skills of e-mailing family and friends, learning how to Skype, online shopping , online banking and the wonders of the world wide web provide the foundations of what is taught and the start of a changed life.

Reliance on the care team or friends to help get her out of the flat in the wheelchair restricts Cornelia’s independence and is to her the most infuriating aspect of her current situation.

This life style will not change in the foreseeable future. Yet a dramatic life change has occurred thanks to an iPad, 10 lessons and an optimistic outlook. Although inwardly frustrated at why it had all happened to her Cornelia now feels blessed by her newly developed skills. A quick Skype chat to an old friend, checking for the cheapest price for a printer, finding out what local amenities are wheelchair accessible are just the start. A sketch sent via e-mail to wish someone Happy Birthday, a funky new rhythm created on an app and watching Adam Ant on YouTube. The door to so much more is now open.

The much missed joys in her life of creating music, drawing and writing are now available again. Although not as good as the real thing Cornelia can now watch a sunset or a firework display on screen.

The one regret Cornelia has is that she did not get into technology sooner. Now nothing is stopping her and her life is changed for the better.

If ever asked what did you do today at work? I can honestly say I changed a life.

Stephen Collis

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